CC image courtesy of Flickr, louisebatesuk.
By Shade, H.A. Editorial Team
Recently, Bill Gothard was hosted by Total Outreach for Christ Ministries in Little Rock, AR for the 2016 Overcomer’s Conference. Based on the knowledge that he is an alleged sexual predator, someone contacted the church’s bishop, Bishop Robert E. Smith, with their concerns that they were having someone like Gothard speak at their church.
The response from the bishop was telling. Referencing I Timothy 5:19, which is a companion to Matthew 18:15-17‘s directives to always confront privately first, and then with witnesses. But the question remains ‘Should we be confronting those who have committed crimes as though they are just sins and offenses?’.
The text reads:
Brother Brandon, I am at somewhat of a disadvantage, not knowing you personally, nor being privy to your first-hand knowledge of an Elder’s (Bill Gothard’s) sin(s). I am instructed, ‘Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses’ (1 Timothy 5:19). If you are a witness against this elder, please gather one or two others who are first hand witnesses and schedule an appointment to sit down with me, and do according to God’s word. Until such time, where I am concerned, you stand in violation both of scripture, where Brother Gothard is concerned, and having not pointed out any discrepancies in my teachings, etc. your judgement of my character, discernment, and ministry is faulty at best. I await your biblical response; no other type of correspondences are necessary.
In Christ Jesus,
Bishop Robert E. Smith, Sr.
The patriarchal nature of the Bill Gothard/ATI/IBLP cult is such that leaders are unassailable in their directives, their actions, their lives. There is a tendency to dismiss accusations such as these as merely ‘offenses’. This allows the leader who is being confronted to make it appear as though the accuser is mentally unstable, unable to parse the differences between good and evil. It paints the accuser as petty, overly emotional, unbelievable.
It leaves us with no recourse.
We are not believed, because we either have no witnesses, or all the witnesses in question are ‘offended’. Being offended brings into question the Umbrella of Authority, in which men are the ultimate leaders and voices for God. According to this umbrella idea, there are 3 levels of ‘protection’. The first is God’s role in our lives. He is the ultimate controlling power.
The second is the man’s role, as father/husband to the family. His authority comes directly from God. The third is that of the wife/mother’s umbrella. It is nestled completely underneath the man’s umbrella. She is to be subordinate, submissive completely to the husband. He is God’s voice to her at all times.
Underneath these umbrellas are the children. They are completely covered by both the mother’s and father’s umbrellas, and then by God. The authority of the mother is over them, but her authority is always trumped by the father’s authority. To question the father is to question God. God’s umbrella and the father’s umbrella are often seen as the same thing.
This same umbrella is applied to authority structures within the church.
Everything is a cascading layer of how God talks to one man, and that is to trickle down into complete abject obedience by those underneath. There is no freedom, no sense of self.
It is within this structure that Matthew 18:15-17, and I Timothy 5:19 come into play. With the focus being on ‘sin’ and ‘offense’, the diminishing language leaves those of us who have accusations with little ground to stand upon. “If your brother sins against you”….and he’s a sex offender.
In it, he delineates the difference between a sin and a crime, and says,
Such offenses are rightly under the jurisdiction of the governing authorities. In the New Testament book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes that Christ followers are to be subject to the civil authorities. He writes, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. He even mentions that the role of government is to punish evildoers. Child sexual abuse is an evil that has been rightly deemed to be criminal by the civil authorities. Therefore, those who profess to follow Jesus have the responsibility to make sure that a person accused of committing such a crime is subjected to those governing authorities – which includes making a police report and cooperating throughout the criminal justice process.
Based on this, one would assume that the first step would be calling the authorities with information about a crime committed, but I think this first goes back to language.
First, they need to admit that this is a crime, not an offense, not a sin. With this revelation, more responsibility is laid upon the authority in question to listen to those accusing another member of a crime. It brings into play the mandatory reporting laws. It requires them to ‘render unto Caesar’ their trust and confidences in bringing the person accused to justice.
The verses that were used here to hide behind are not being used in their entirety. I Timothy 5:19 has companion verses that make this a complete thought. I Timothy 5: 20-21 says:
But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.
The first verse (20) referenced from I Timothy 5 clearly instructs believers to make public the accusations that are being brought against an elder, so that all will know. In the case of abuse, the only way to make sure the abuse is stopped is to make it public. The more people that know, the less likely it is that it could continue. Knowledge is power. In order to burn down the systems that perpetuate abuse, it needs to be made public.
The second verse (21) makes it clear that no favoritism should be employed when dealing with an elder, or authority figure, that has abused. By invoking the Umbrella of Authority, favoritism is being used. Because to question or accuse a male authority figure is to question God Himself. This is expressly forbidden within this patriarchal structure.
Matthew 18 also contains this passage in verses 6-9:
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Surely it cannot be anymore plain, that committing abuse of any kind against a child is an offense that angers the God of the Bible. Not only does it say that it is better if these people would die, it goes further to state that removal of the offending part of the body is necessary to protect the rest of the soul.
Based on these two passages, it is plain to see that there is far more responsibility on the listener to hear and believe the accused. In attempting to hide behind the Bible’s directives about confrontation, they expose their own biases.
They are not reading, nor following, their own Bible’s commands.
Their own Bible commands that no favoring of elders is to be shown, especially when being confronted with ‘sin’. And by ‘sin’ in this case, we mean crime. Abuse is a crime committed against those who are vulnerable. They are made even more so by the very authority structures put into place by things like the Umbrella of Authority.
This umbrella means it is nearly impossible for us to confront our abusers.
They enjoy impunity, complete power over our lives. In order to confront, we would need to have unquestionable sources, and the only ones who are not questionable are the ones who are in authority in the first place. And within that system, the ones who have power are greatly unwilling to be either questioned, or to have their authority in any way diminished.
They stick together, they believe each other over victims. Even though their own Bible commands that they listen to victims, that committing abuse against children especially is abhorrent. Fundamentalism such as this is unkind to victims, flaying them with the very verses that should support, protect, defend them. Fundamentalism such as this supports the authority in power, upholding, favoring, preserving it.
But in the end, their own Bible damns them.